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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Randolph-Sheppard Act

Umar Moulta-Ali
Analyst in Disability Policy

The Randolph-Sheppard Act (P.L. 74-732), as amended, was enacted to provide individuals who are blind with remunerative employment and to enhance their economic well-being. Through Randolph-Sheppard Act (R-SA) programs, individuals who are blind and in need of employment are given priority in the operation of vending facilities on federal property. Typically, individuals who are blind and receive R-SA program contracts act as managers of vending facilities, subcontracting with food service organizations that provide meal and/or vending services on a day-to-day basis. Run by a state licensing agency through the U.S. Department of Education’s state vocational rehabilitation program, R-SA programs may also be labeled “business enterprise programs” or “vending facilities programs.” R-SA programs are not mandatory, though every state except Wyoming chooses to participate.

Since its inception, the R-SA has extended its reach beyond federal locations to include state, county, municipal, and private installations. The 1974 amendments to the R-SA added cafeterias to its list of eligible “vending facilities.” Congress, however, did not specify whether military mess halls should be treated as “cafeterias” in the context of the R-SA. This issue raised concerns about conflicts between the programs authorized by R-SA and another program that addresses the employment of individuals who are blind, AbilityOne. AbilityOne is a statutorily mandated procurement program developed under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD Act) that promotes employment opportunities for persons who are blind or severely disabled. Two subsequent federal court of appeals decisions have held that military troop dining facilities are considered “cafeterias” under the R-SA and that the act controlled over the JWOD Act, which also provides employment opportunities for individuals with severe disabilities.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, a total of 2,319 individuals who are blind operated 2,505 Randolph- Sheppard vending facilities, generating $792.6 million in gross income, with average vendor earnings of $56,168. This report provides a brief history of the R-SA programs and an explanation of how the programs are structured. Next, detailed financial and operational data are provided—including the number of program participants, their overall sales, and their earnings. Finally, the report explores how the R-SA and the JWOD Act intersect or overlap. It concludes with a discussion of legislation that was introduced in the 110
th and 111th Congresses to reform or combine the Randolph Sheppard and AbilityOne programs. No legislation was introduced in the 112th Congress that addressed the R-SA program or its discord with the AbilityOne program.

Date of Report: January 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RL34609
Price: $29.95

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